For Australian online retailers, a trip to the biannual Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China, can be either a life-changing business opportunity or a logistics disaster. The fair is located handily close to Australia, but it’s there that the convenience ends. Canton Fair is the world’s largest trade show, with over 23,000 exhibitors showcasing products from every conceivable type of industry in over 1.2 million square metres of space. With so much on offer, how does the novice Fair-goer even know where to start?
When we heard about Canton Fair, my business partners and I decided to go check it out. We had recently launched Furniture Escape, a pureplay online retail website where we sell resort style outdoor furniture imported from China at discounted prices. Our objectives were:
- Identify and meet with new suppliers
- Build relationships with existing suppliers
- Discover possible new opportunities for other products to import and sell online
Needless to say, the trip was an exciting and challenging learning curve. Having done the rounds, and also spoken to veterans who’ve been attending the fair for years, I’d like to share my Top Ten Tips to anyone considering going to Canton Fair. By taking a few simple steps, you’ll be able to make your visit to Canton Fair a fun and profitable adventure.
10 Tips for Going to Canton Fair
1. Go in with the right mindset. I put this first because it’s in many ways the most important. China has a very different culture to Australia. Expect to be surprised by the cultural etiquette, cuisine, and ways of doing business. Be prepared to be as open-minded as you possibly can, so you won’t be puzzled by the many unfamiliarity’s of Chinese culture, and be able to have the best time at the fair.
2. Get to know people. Leading straight on from the first tip, a major difference of doing business in China vs. Australia is the level of relationship-building involved. The Chinese don’t approach business from a strictly “what can you do for me and what can I do for you” perspective. If you make an effort to get to know the sales managers and suppliers as real people with families and common interests, they will like you, and work harder to get better deals for you.
3. Go direct to the manufacturers. There are many stands at the fair which are from trading companies, not manufacturing companies. Dealing directly with the manufacturers will get you a better price. Having a local Chinese contact can help connect you with local manufacturers to get the best deal possible.
4. Keep focused. With so much choice at the fair, it’s important to keep focused on the product group you want to invest in. The furniture district alone is the size of 3-4 Sydney suburbs joined together! Saying that though, also be open minded with other opportunities, and seed relationships that may be useful in the future.
5. Bring LOTS of business cards. I’m talking at least 300 copies. This is because many suppliers will not give you a copy of their catalogue (or will be reluctant to) if you do not provide a card. But give cards only to those suppliers you are genuinely interested in doing business with, or you will be added to email databases you don’t want to be on. Spam alert!
6. Check out the factories. When you’ve found some suppliers that you connect with and feel good about, arrange to tour their factories. Most likely they will have many of the latest products that they do not display at the fair, for fear of their competitors ripping off their design or technology.
7. Ask questions. Depending on who you’re talking to, and your approach and demeanour, you can gain a lot of useful information by asking very direct questions. Some recommended examples: “What are the most popular products?”, “Do you have any clients in Australia? Who?”, “Who’s your biggest client?”, “How many containers do they order?”. And don’t be afraid to ask for exclusivity on a certain product or range.
8. Be crystal clear on the details. You need to know all about the MOQ (minimum order quantity), FOB (freight on board) and EXW (ex works) policies of the suppliers you plan to deal with. Make sure the factory is up to date with its industry-approved certifications. Shipping and packaging is important – freight items should be packed with enough cardboard or other padding to ensure they are not damaged during transit.
9. Organise your brochures. You’ll be collecting hundreds of brochures and catalogues, so make sure you have some sort of reference system for them. For example, I drew a star on the front page of brochures from suppliers I wanted to meet again, and folded the corners on pages with the particular products we spoke about.
10. Bring your carry-on with you. Another tip for catalogues: I highly recommend that you bring a wheeled carry-on sized suitcase to collect and transport them around the fair. You’ll be glad you did – some of them are as thick as phone books! You can also ship your catalogue collection straight back to Australia at the DHL or EMS services that are set up at the fair for this purpose.
I hope you found this list useful. In the meantime, have any of you had similar or different experiences at Canton Fair? Are you considering taking a trip there?